“What are we trying to accomplish here?”
This is a favorite question of a former colleague of mine that has really impacted the way I look at not only my coaching, whether it is for a single team or directing a club, but making life choices. I’d encourage all parents to consider this question when signing up their child for youth sports, and ask that all coaches ponder it before volunteering their time. There are very few instances when it’s time to make an important decision that pausing to reflect upon it isn’t helpful.
Players generally arrive at a soccer club or any other athletic endeavor through their parents signing them up. So the starting point of a child’s experience stems from a decision their parent makes. When clicking the mouse to register, I ask parents to please consider “What are we trying to accomplish here?” There are so many positive reasons to sign a child up, but they are worth listing.
- To have fun playing
- To make new friends
- To instill the values of sportsmanship and fair play
- To be active and healthy
- To acquire new skills
- To learn to deal with both success and failure
If the program the parent signed up for provides their child with these opportunities, I think we’d all agree it should be considered a success. Now that a parent has made the decision to enroll their child, it’s our duty as a club to ensure the experience is a positive one.
How do we ensure this?
If there is a single quality that I hope to instill in the coaches that I work with and the parents that I come across, it’s perspective. Without perspective all the other qualities a coach may possess, whether it be technical proficiency or tactical knowledge, he or she will always be limited in the development and enjoyment of the players they are charged to lead. The good news is that in my experience, perspective isn’t a constant, but something that grows deeper over time and comes through experience.
Before going any further, I think it’s important to establish a definition of perspective. Perspective can be defined several ways, but the definition I like to focus on is: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. I believe as the adult, the parent or coach, in the decision making process for the child we have a responsibility to truly understand the “relative importance” of youth sports. If we allow the “relative importance” to guide our decision making process we should be on solid footing with the decisions we make. Is it important to play our “best players” to win a U11 game or is it more important to provide all players an opportunity to play knowing kids develop at different rates and the child that may struggle now could emerge as the one we turn to a few years down the road? Do we view the result of the game as the bench mark or the team’s performance and the effort they gave as our measuring stick knowing the result is often out of our control? Do we praise effort or talent? https://lexingtonunited.org/praise-effort-or-praise-talent/ If we as adults model proper perspective, over time, as the child matures, they will become more involved in the decision making process both on and off the field.
When a coach has perspective, they do things that are appropriate. Not the flashiest of words, but solid as an oak. I had the opportunity to watch Tosh Farrell, former Director of the EvertonYouthAcademy, run a session at this year’s NSCAA Convention where he used the phrase “provide the kids with the appropriate diet”. A good coach does just that. A good coach runs practices that are age appropriate by choosing exercises that are developmentally appropriate and delivered in a manner that is both verbally and visually appropriate.
I want to expand on the visually appropriate comment since this is an area that can often be a shortcoming for many coaches at all levels. Dick Bate, Cardiff City Academy Director and a world class coaching educator, posed the question, “when is a coach communicating?” in a lecture on communication skills that I was fortunate enough to attend a few years back. The answer: all the time. All eyes are on you as the coach, so how do you want to look? When a kid shoots wide of the target and you toss your hands in the air or turn your back to the field, before regaining your composure and offering “good try” or “unlucky” as words of encouragement what message have we sent our player? The demeanor of a coach has a profound impact on the game our children are involved in. When a coach has perspective and behaves in a composed manner, he encourages players to attempt new things and to take chances without reprimand. When doing so, he sets a tone that is often emulated by the parents on the opposite sideline. This creates a wonderful experience for all involved. By contrast, when a coach lacks perspective we often observe players deferring to teammates in an effort to avoid making mistakes or taking ownership of their game. When the fear of failure enters youth sports, the values we signed up for begin to diminish and we need to rethink our investment.
“What are we trying to accomplish here?”
I believe as coaches we have a unique opportunity to develop not only players, but people. That is what we should be “trying to accomplish”. When we rotate a player to different positions and “weaken our chances of winning”, but know it is the right thing to do, we need to do it without hesitation. When we ask our players to take risks or play out the back and the ball gets turned over, we need to encourage them to do it again or as Samuel Beckett says, “Fail Better” https://lexingtonunited.org/fail-better/ the next time.
Just as parents begin the process with their child by signing them up to play, they often are the ones that put closure to the weekend’s game on the ride home. This is a responsibility that can have a lasting impact on the player’s mindset. Please take great care in this responsibility. Instead of analyzing the game, John O’Sullivan, Founder of the Changing the Game Project, recommends sharing these few words on the ride home “I really love watching you play”. What a wonderful comment for a parent to share with their child. What a great perspective on what we should be trying to accomplish.